CROSIER. In Skeat's Etymological Dictionary Crosier  is derived from Crook ; thus a pastoral staff terminating in a crook. The use of a pastoral staff is ordered in the Prayer Book of the second year of Edward VI. The pastoral staff of an Archbishop is distinguished from the pastoral staff of a Bishop by terminating in a cross instead of in a crook.

The Story of the Crosier

By the Rev. Geo. S. Tyack, b.a.


THE  staff of authority, which we have in so many forms, as sceptre, crosier, mace, wand, or otherwise, has its origin in each case in one of two ideas. Sometimes it is an instrument of correction; thus the churchwarden's staff, the wand or rod of a royal usher, and of a beadle, and probably also the mace of a mayor, were all, like the fasces of a Roman governor, intended to correct the unruly, or to forcibly clear a way, when necessary, for the progress of the dignitary before whom they were borne. In other cases this symbol of authority, as it has now become, was originally nothing more or less than the trusty staff on which the aged ruler leaned, as on a modern walking stick. All language points to the fact that age was at first considered an essential condition of dignity and authority, for almost all terms of respect imply the seniority of the person addressed. Sir, sieur or monsieur, signor, senor, are of course but varied forms of the word senior ; and we have more particular instances in the terms sire, senator, and alderman, in matters of state, with patriarch, father (applied to a bishop or a priest) and pope, abbot, priest, presbyter, or elder, in the Church. Thus it came to pass that in the earliest times the aged ruler was usually seen supporting his weight of years by the help of his staff; and the step from this familiar sight to the idea that the staff symbolized his rule, was simple and natural. The sceptre, therefore, which was the needful support of Homer's old councillors, has become the emblem of royal power; and the crutch-stick of the aged bishop is transfigured into the crosier.

This being the case, it is obviously impossible to fix the exact date at which the crosier, or any other of these staves of office, came to be recognized simply as such, the progress from the first idea being in all cases a gradual development. We find the episcopal staff, however, mentioned in connection with S. Cæsarius of Arles, who was bishop of that See from a.d. 501 to 542, and it is also referred to by Gregory, Bishop of Tours, in the same century, and again in the proceedings of the Fourth Council of Toledo a little later.

In primitive times it was made of wood, usually of elder, or, as some say, of cypress, and in the form of a T; and the name expressive of that shape seems to have lingered long, at least in England. Pilkington, Bishop of Durham, from 1561 to 1577, speaks once and again of the “cruche and mitre.” But as the symbolical idea grew and the wealth of the church increased, the staff naturally became handsomer in design and materials, as being expressive of the episcopal dignity. Jewels and the precious metals were employed in its adornment, and comparatively soon it assumed the crook shape, now its universal form, significant of the office of the Bishop as the Chief Shepherd of his diocese. In the Eastern Church the curved staff is said to be reserved for the Patriarchs.

The pastoral idea of the clerical, and especially of the episcopal office, probably arose from our Lord's assumption of the title of “the Good Shepherd,” and was further emphasized by His charge to S. Peter, “Feed My sheep, feed My lambs.” In allusion to this, the figure of the Saviour presenting that Apostle with a crooked staff is familiar in Art, and the thought finds expression in several writers of the English Church. Jewell, Bishop of Salisbury (1560-1571) writes, “Their crosier's staff signifies diligence in attending the flock of Christ,” and William Tyndale speaks of “that Shepherd's crook, the bishop's crose.” More authoritative is the allusion in the Ordinal, where, at the consecration of a bishop, the rubric runs, “Then shall the Archbishop put into his hand the pastoral staff, saying, Be to the flock of Christ a shepherd, not a wolf, feed them, devour them not.” The words still stand in our prayer-books, although the accompanying significant act has not been enjoined since the first book of Edward VI., of 1549.

Most of the early examples of the use of the crosier in England are found in the carvings of bishops' tombs. We have, for instance, in their Cathedral the effigies of Bartholomew of Exeter, Bishop of that diocese from 1161 to 1184, bearing a staff, the butt of which pierces a dragon at his feet; and of Simon of Apulia, who followed in the same See in 1214 to 1224, with the same insignia. Other figures might be mentioned at York, Salisbury, Worcester, Wells, and indeed in most of our Cathedrals, the form of the crosier varying little in the several cases, except in richness of design. The curious and more than questionable custom of making, in a kind of sport, a Boy Bishop, is commemorated at Salisbury by the tomb of one such, whose effigy bears the crosier along with the other marks of his sham dignity.

The finest specimen of an ancient staff still preserved among us, is that of William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester (1367-1405), bequeathed by that great prelate himself to New College, Oxford.

After the Reformation, in the general decline of ceremonial and symbolism, the pastoral staff and the mitre fell alike into disuse in England, surviving only as senseless decorations, or heraldic additions to the tombs or arms of bishops, who had never used either the one or the other, had perhaps never even seen them. At the present time the use of the crosier has once more become almost universal in the English dioceses, and the added dignity of the mitre promises soon to be scarcely less frequently found.

But besides the bishops, the abbots of the most important monastic foundations formerly bore and wore crosier and mitre in token of their authority, the mark of difference being that while the bishop had his crosier carried with the crook turned outwards as a sign of his rule over the whole diocese, the abbot carried his, usually one of simpler design, crook inwards, to signify the purely domestic or internal character of his government.

The English mitred abbots sat and voted in the House of Lords until the dissolution of their communities under Henry VIII. They were the heads of the following abbeys, namely, S. Albans, Glastonbury, Westminster, Bury S. Edmund's, Bardney, Shrewsbury, Crowland, Abington, Evesham, Gloucester, Ramsey, York (S. Mary's), Tewkesbury, Reading, Battle, Winchcourt, Hide-by-Winchester, Cirencester, Waltham, Thorney, Canterbury (S. Augustine's), Selby, Peterborough, Colchester (S. John's), and Tavistock, twenty-five in all, of which the last was considerably the latest addition to the list.

One of the earliest examples of the abbatial staff in England is on the tomb of Abbot Vitalis (died 1082) in the cloister of Westminster Abbey, and another early instance of its use is supplied by the effigy of Abbot Andrew (1193-1200) in Peterborough Cathedral. Parker, the last Abbot of Gloucester, lies buried in the Cathedral there, and Philip Ballard de Hanford, the last Abbot of Evesham, in Worcester Cathedral, each with his crosier.

Before leaving this subject an effort should be made to remove a misconception. A common modern fallacy is that there is a distinction between the crosier and the pastoral staff, the latter name being assigned to the crook of a bishop, and the former to the processional cross borne before an Archbishop. The late Dean Hook, if he was not the originator of the idea in an article in his “Church Dictionary,” at any rate did much to propagate it thereby, and it is now frequently found in books of reference. But the use of the words in the past is all against it. It is true that crosier comes from the Latin crux, a cross, but from the same root too, come crook and crutch; so that nothing can be proved from the derivation. It would seem that the original form of the word was crose, as it is given in a quotation used above, whence the chaplain who bore it was a crosier. From this it became the crosier's staff, the crosier-staff, and finally the crosier; all having reference to the crook of Episcopal Authority.